Playing is the process of finding through pleasure what interests you, but it is by definition a state of transitional knowing, creative by always being inconclusive’. (Ellsworth:73)
Knowing and not knowing – resolved and unresolved – not right and therefore limitlessly wrong. I started beyond my knowledge and asked to learn from the process – to learn from the space, the gallery, the staff, the viewer and from my occupation. Visitors to the gallery have been most challenged by this and I am sympathetic – the fear on both sides is evident. Some enter effortlessly – children, those comfortable with art that might make them uncomfortable. Others came warily but with interest, offering a way in – a loved author, an image that held their attention, testing a thought about the work. Some, expecting something specific from art, resisted – and in the space feelings appeared, became more accessible – kindness and irritation. I read. The ‘open form’ and ‘closed form’ in the architectural theory of Oskar Hansen – I read on.
No artistic expression is complete until it has been appropriated by its users or beholders. (Hansen in Bishop: 257)
What do we want art to do? All the questions students ask with me. Give – give me – pleasure, experience, sensation – somebody talked of joy. Fill me up. But what of the viewer – their presence. In our minds and critiques we become invisible or disembodied in that role – we are surprised that is our breathe that melts the ancient paint from the walls of caves and churches. We assert the viewer’s absolute right to be in the space, not seeing ourselves as participant, but gliding through, consuming without responsibility. Here that anonymity is challenged, and the visitor questions the right of the artist to be in the space offering no apparent ‘service’.
Participatory art is as uncertain and precarious as democracy itself; neither are legitimated in advance but need continually to be performed and tested in every specific context. (Bishop: 284)
In week one I came forward, visible, responsive in a maze of books and words – as ever teacher? The naturalism was problematic – being me – happy, clumsy, confused. I removed myself a little in week two, as objects replaced books. I sat and read, responding only when directly addressed, not wishing to perform the impassive artist in the space – the finished artist body, the artist object. I couldn’t claim that protection and did not want the pretension of that pose.
But in all of these contemporary examples, the artist operates from a position of amateur enthusiast rather than informed expert, and delegates the work of lecturing to others. It is as if the artist wants to be a student once more, but does this by setting up their own school from which to learn, combining the student/teacher position. (Bishop: 265&266)
Exposure, praise and criticism mirrored the experience of study, as my accelerating learning did, flattening the gradient between between student and teacher, the exchange of knowledge vividly possible, denying the model of empty learner filled by expert teacher. I have, of course, left much of the expert work to my stand-in keepers, offering a frame for their elegant proposals, while mine remains baggy.
What might it be like to move into potential transitional spaces as educators and hold school there? (Ellsworth: 62)
I had anticipated that I would know in some way many people entering the gallery – current students, ex-students, colleagues and that I would need and want to acknowledge and speak with them. Joy. Swansea is a small city and rather than using art to ‘help’ or examine exterior others, this work, in many ways looks inwards to those it knows, in a process of joint learning, ‘joined-up’ learning – linking gallery, studio and study, while we imagine future models and projects in a ‘loosened’ space, talking till the doors are locked, making experience, pleasure.
Bishop, Claire. 2012. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. London: Verso Books
Ellsworth, Elizabeth Ann. 2005. Places Of Learning: Media, Architecture, Pedagogy. New York: Routledge